Dec 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

"The Ministry for the Future": How to solve the climate crisis

Photo illustration of the cover of "The Ministry for the Future" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Photo: Hachette Book Group

A recent novel illustrates the likely consequences of climate change in the decades to come, and offers hope that better technology and politics might help us save the future.

Why it matters: Perhaps no subject as important as climate change has also proven so difficult to effectively and accurately dramatize. "The Ministry for the Future" is the one novel I've read that captures the consequences of warming while offering a realistic blueprint for how we can stop it.

How it works: Written by the prolific author Kim Stanley Robinson, "Ministry" centers around a UN agency created in the near-future that is meant to represent the interests of generations not yet born, the generations that have the most at stake on climate change.

  • The inciting incident is a horrific heat wave in India, where temperatures and humidity rise so high that human beings can't survive. As a result, millions of people die in a single sweep, kicking off a desperate last-chance effort to slow warming that unfolds over hundreds of pages and a few dozen years in the novel.
  • Like much of what Robinson describes, such a catastrophic event is all too possible in the years to come.

Details: Robinson is what's known as a "hard sci-fi" writer, one who engrosses himself in the minute, realistic details of everything from blockchain to geoengineering to ice sheet dynamics.

  • But he has a playful touch as well, narrating short chapters from the perspective of inanimate forces, like a carbon molecule or the global market.
  • Beyond science, "Ministry" illustrates the knotty political and financial problems that bar the way to effective climate action — and shows how we might solve them.

The bottom line: If you don't trust my take, just listen to President Obama.

Photo of Obama's 2020 book list.
Go deeper